Many travelers who plan a trip to Portugal think of Lisbon, the country’s capital and largest city. People who are familiar with Portuguese wine may think of Porto, home of the famous fortified wines, or Duoro, and it’s intense reds. All locales are magical in their own right, and everyone we know who has visited has raved about their experiences. They are definitely on our short list of destinations for our next European excursion.
Yet as much as our friends loved visiting these well-known places, the one region in Portugal that all of them mentioned as “must-go” on their next trip is Alentejo. Intrepid wine explorers know Alentejo as a world-class wine region, producing stunning, high quality wines. However, wines of Alentejo are not as readily available, at least in our area, as other, better known Portuguese regions. (Vinho Verde, anybody?) In fact, a check of our local Total Wine & More store revealed just five wines from that region in their inventory, and only four in stock.
When we received an invitation for samples of four wines from Alentejo producer Herdade do Esporão, and to attend a virtual tasting with Esporão Group CEO João Roquette and winemaker Sandra Alves, we gladly accepted. With this blog, we hope to help promote the region and the wines, to foster interest and enthusiasm, and hopefully greater availability!
The samples and tasting were focused on Herdade do Esporão in Alentejo. Of interest, though, is that the Esporão Group has expanded beyond Alentejo, and has operations in other Portuguese regions. These include Quinta dos Murças in the Douro, Quinta do Ameal in Vinho Verde, and even the Sovina Craft Beer brewery in Porto.
The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.
The Alentejo region is the largest in Portugal, and is located in the southern third of the country. Herdade do Esporão is centrally located in Alentejo, in the Reguengos de Monsaraz DOC subregion. Receiving an average of just 23 inches of rain per year, and boasting at least seven distinct soil profiles, the area is ideal for viticulture. The estate is planted to 37 grape varieties, most of which are indigenous. Some of the Touriga Nacional, Verdelho, and Semillon vines are more than 40 years old.
During the virtual event, we first heard from João Roquette, who provided some history, and described the diversity and sustainability practices employed at Herdade do Esporão. Originally established in 1267, the boundaries of the estate remain essentially unchanged to this day. The estate’s 4,522 acres include 1,091 acres planted to vines, with olive trees, orchards, and vegetable gardens on other parts of the land.
João Roquette’s relative, José Roquette, and his partner Joaquim Bandeira, purchased the estate in the 1973, shortly before the 1974 military coup overthrew the ruling dictatorship. The Roquette family moved to Brazil in the short term, but José returned in 1983 to begin wine production. The first vintage was a 1985 Esporão Reserva Red. Today, Herdade do Esporão wines are exported to some 50 countries. In the U.S., there are about 25 different wines available, including reds, whites, rosés and Port, ranging in price from $10 to $300.
Herdade do Esporão’s sustainability practices are four-fold: Environmental, Social, Cultural, and Personal. Their mindset is one of thinking about the next generation. On the Environmental front, Herdade do Esporão achieved Organic certification in 2019, following an 11 year process. Beyond the estate, they are helping 16 of their supply growers attain their own Organic certification. On the Social plane, Herdade do Esporão promotes employee equality, fair pay and benefits, and social activism. The estate provides everyone with transportation to and from work, hot, sit-down meals, health insurance, access to legal and mental health assistance, and the possibility of bonuses and advancement. Culturally, they sponsor experience centers, including a restaurant in Alentejo, and host a cultural ambassador program. Finally, Personal sustainability involves encouraging a slow forward lifestyle, encouraging a slower pace of life, taking the time to pay attention to details and perspective that is often overlooked in our fast-paced world.
Winemaker Sandra Alves took the reins to talk about the sample wines, and walk us through the tasting. Sandra joined the Herdade do Esporão team in 2001, and took on the lead winemaking role just two years ago, in February 2020. Sandra’s early winemaking education was at the side of her grandfather, who made wine from backyard grapes. She pursued an education in Oenology and has received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Early in her career, Sandra was focused on producing white wines…in a country and region dominated by reds. Herdade do Esporão had faith and invested in the project, and as we can attest from the tasting, it has been a tasty success!
Full disclosure, the Zoom call fell in the middle of a workday, and as such we opted to open and sample the wines over the weekend, a few days before the call. The experience was no less informative, and we were very impressed by the quality. Then, we enjoyed the bottles throughout the week, with the food pairings we suggest in our reviews, below.
One of the topics of conversation during the call was the affordable price point of these wines. Like wines from many regions that are emerging on the global scale, the values in Alentejo are well worth searching out.
Colheita Branco 2020 (SRP $18)
Golden color. Aromas citrus and tropical fruit. On the palate, lemon, pineapple, and Granny Smith apple. Bone dry with refreshing, zesty acidity. Pair this with grilled or pan-seared seafood. Delightful!
Reserva Branco 2020 (SRP $20)
Golden straw color. On the nose, pear, yellow apple, and butter notes, indicative of the oak aging. Flavors of pineapple, lemon lime, pear, and apple, with hints of toast and butter. Full bodied, with a rich, creamy mouthfeel, and bright acidity. Very satisfying finish. Nice alternative to Chardonnay for pairing with roast chicken.
Colheita Tinto 2018 (SRP $18)
Deep garnet color with a brick rim. Aromas of ripe black cherry and blackberry, with hints of clove. On the palate, bright Bing cherry, raspberry, and blackberry, with baking spice and white pepper. Medium-plus body. Chalky, gritty tannins with medium acidity and a long finish of red fruit and spice. Excellent with grilled pork dishes.
Reserva Reserva Tinto 2018 (SRP $25)
Garnet color with a ruby rim. On the nose, toasty raspberry and cherry notes. Flavors of black cherry, blackberry, and cassis, with hints of nutmeg, clove, and other baking spice, and oak and cedar notes. Full body with firm tannins with balanced acidity and a long, tasty finish. Great with grilled beef or game.
As we mentioned above, about 25 different Herdade do Esporão wines are available in the U.S., but here in our little corner of suburbia, they are not easy to find. If you happen to spot some in your local wine shop, or on a restaurant wine list, do yourself a favor and buy all you can! Oh, and did you catch earlier in the post, Herdade do Esporão has a restaurant in Alentejo. We started following the Esporão Group Instagram account, and the food shots are amazing! If you’ve been, or get to go on an upcoming trip, do leave a comment to let us know how it is! We’ll be making our reservation as soon as we book our Portuguese vacation!
- Text and photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds